A new batch of WPA hit the restaurant and brewery this week, just in time for Chicago Craft Beer Week—ten days when we all come together around our favorite beverage. In honor of CCBW, we thought we’d share a little more about what makes WPA—a beer that’s all about coming together around a shared goal—special. (Hint: it’s the botanicals.)
WPA derives its inspiration from the Works Progress Administration. If, like us, it’s been a decade (or two) since your last social studies class, let us remind you that WPA was a massive public works project of the New Deal era in the 1930s. It provided jobs for about a third of the nation’s 10 million unemployed and drew people to work on everything from the nation’s bridges, highways and dams to public murals, documentary photography, and landscape beautification. For a better sense of the scope of the work, check out this amazing archive of WPA posters from The Library of Congress.
WPA is brewed with a field of flowers. These botanicals give our pale ale a depth and balance as they combine with bright, citrusy hops and just enough maltiness. Let’s get to know the main players.
This is probably the most familiar of WPA’s botanicals, as it’s considered by many gardening experts to be among the easiest and most versatile flowers to grow. Marigolds tolerate most soils and are found the world-over, from South America to South Africa to Nepal, where they're known as the hundred-leafed flower. In ancient Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures, they were used as a medicinal herb, as well as a dye. And just in case you were wondering, marigold seeds look like bones from some long-extinct creature.
Elderflower is part of the Sambucus genus, which contains many species. We use Sambucus Nigra in WPA—more commonly referred to as elderberry or black elder—which is most often used medicinally to treat respiratory, gastrointestinal, and skin disorders, as well as viral infections, fever, colds, and influenza. While we only use the flower when brewing, the ripe berries can be used for syrups, jam, brandy, and wine. That said, unripened berries can be mildly poisonous, so look alive. And #protip: due to its strong-smelling foliage, they used to tie elderflower to a horse's mane to keep flies away while riding.
And perhaps the most obscure of the bunch: Sweet Osmanthus, a shrub or small tree native to Asia. The flowers come in several different colors and because of their incredible fragrance, the plant is often used ornamentally. It's also heavily used in Chinese cuisine to make everything from tea and liquor to sweet cakes, dumplings, and soup. And, in our case, beer! In Chinese mythology, it was believed a self-healing sweet osmanthus tree grew on the moon and had to be continuously prunned by Wu Gang as divine punishment—a sort of Chinese Sisyphus.